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U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Teacher Freedom of Choice
posted by: Colin | July 01, 2012, 07:11 PM   

Compulsory unionism and the ability of teacher unions to forcibly collect union dues from teacher paychecks has been a hot topic in recent years. From Wisconsin to Ohio, education stakeholders have debated the topic in high-profile legislative and legal battles with clear national implications. Just last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court made it more difficult for public-employee unions to extract special fee assessments from non-members for expenses such as ballot battles in a clear step forward for teacher freedoms.

The court required public unions, including teachers' unions, to gain the "opt-in" consent of fee-paying members to face such special fees or dues hikes, instead of the more prevalent practice of making the employees take lengthy steps to "opt out." While many teachers in compulsory states go through a cumbersome process to receive small refunds for political spending, this decision would ensure that these teachers – and other teachers who pay full dues – would have to "opt in" to pay additional fees.

Concurring with the court's holding, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, "When a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide a fresh Hudson notice and may not exact any funds...without their affirmative consent." A Hudson notice is the accounting statement named for the 1986 Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson decision.

Further, Justice Alito said it was not enough for non-members to get their money back after the fact. For employees who "disagreed with the SEIU's electoral objectives, a refund provided after the union's objectives had already been achieved would be cold comfort," Alito said.

On the opt-in issue, Alito suggested that the common practice of requiring objectors to opt out became accepted despite its constitutional implications."By allowing unions to collect any fees... our cases have substantially impinged upon the First Amendment rights of nonmembers," Alito said. "In the new situation presented here, we see no justification for any further impingement. The general rule—individuals should not be compelled to subsidize private groups or private speech—should prevail."

This decision has huge implications for unions facing uphill political battles. Last year in Ohio, for example, the Ohio Education Association assessed an additional $50 per member to finance the referendum campaign against Senate Bill 5. Based on the court's ruling, fees like these would become illegal unless teachers made the conscious decision to "opt in" and pay the additional dues or assessments.

Based on the response from teachers in Ohio, this decision will be crippling to unions who count on these unfair fees to advance their political agendas. Thousands of teachers were outraged by the thought of additional political fees in Ohio, particularly when they already saddled with $800-$900 in dues per year. One teacher wrote, "I am appalled that the OEA feels they can commandeer funds from my pay check without my approval." Perhaps if teachers had been given the choice in Ohio in 2011, the Senate Bill 5 ballot referendum would have had a completely different outcome.

What do you think about the Supreme Court's decision?

Comment below.

>> Originally posted by Larisa on the AAE Blog.

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